How many different platforms should you offer in an online course? Should everything be included under one roof in a learning management system (LMS) or can we offer a number of social media where discussions take place, leaving it up to the participants to decide which spaces in which they wish to be active? Traditional e-learning favours the one-stop shop of the LMS (Moodle, Blackboard, Canvas etc) where one log-in gives you access to everything you need to complete the course. However we find that many participants prefer to discuss the course, for example in their own Facebook groups, rather than using the LMS discussion forum and to cater for this tendency many course providers offer a choice of arenas for interaction and collaboration. Most LMS now offer integration with social media to allow for platform diversity. However when courses offer a diversity of arenas they run the risk of confusing participants who find it hard to move between the LMS, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others and it becomes impossible to get a clear view of the course as a whole. The one-stop-shop solution runs the risk of being too controlled and resstrictive (and often less open) whereas the eco-system alternative risks confusion and lack of overview.
This problem is highlighted in an article in eCampus News, Can social media enhance the MOOC experience? which describes a study on the Carpe Diem MOOC that was run in 2014 by Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. The MOOC used Blackboard's CourseSites as platform and blended this with discussion and support via Facebook and Twitter. Participants could get support and engage in discussions on social media as an alternative or complement to the central platform. The interaction between participants on this course is analysed in an article by Gilly Salmon, Bella Ross, Ekaterina Pechenkina and Anne-Marie Chase, The space for social media in structured online learning. Research in Learning Technology. The findings are not surprising but raise important issues for all involved in online course design. You would expect that many of those following a MOOC like this one would be comfortable negotiating multiple platforms but the study reveals that over 40% of survey respondents did not use Facebook or Twitter at all and focused solely on the activities in the LMS. As one respondent put it:
I did not use Twitter or Facebook. Those are social sites. For professional work, I prefer it to be on a professional platform.
Many are reluctant to mix private and professional roles in Facebook and many see Twitter simply as a medium for gossip, celebrities and publicity rather than as a professional networking tool. The benefits of using social media for professional development are not widely accepted and many learners are wary of them.
I am involved in running an online course called Open Networked Learning together with colleagues from 4 other universities. The course is offered as professional development for teachers in each of the participating universities but is also open to learners from other institutions. As a result an internal professional development course becomes an open international course with a wonderful multi-cultural mix. To avoid discussions of which university's LMS we should use we choose Google+ as our platform complemented by a WordPress site with all course information and resources. In addition we use Twitter (#ONL161) for chat sessions, Diigo to gather useful bookmarks and each participants reflects on their learning on their own blogs. One of the main ideas behind the course is using multiple platforms and tools and investigating the potential of these to enhance learning but the downside is that many participants find this diversity confusing and this leads to some dropping out. We try to compensate by offering lots of support from a network of facilitators and co-facilitators but it is still a major issue that juggling between platforms makes it hard to see the bigger picture.
I suspect most of us really prefer to have everything under one roof since the course is one of many activities going on in our lives. We have some participants who succeed in juggling with all the platforms but the majority focus on maybe a couple, primarily the study group's own community in Google+ and then less attention to the other spaces. The delicate balance is to promote diversity whilst avoiding overload, offering a choice without dictating and providing timely support to those who feel insecure.
The main conclusion of Salmon et al is to see value in including social media as alternative arenas but make it clear that learners have a choice whether to use them or not.
When designing for MOOCs or online learning, participants’ preferences for social media use should be taken into account ... One solution is to offer a few different platforms, in addition to the LMS, but not require that learners use them if they feel uncomfortable. Alternatively, ask learners to create professional identities on social media for all formal learning and professional development uses.
Reference:SALMON, Gilly et al. The space for social media in structured online learning. Research in Learning Technology, [S.l.], v. 23, dec. 2015. ISSN 2156-7077. Available at: http://www.researchinlearningtechnology.net/index.php/rlt/article/view/28507. Date accessed: 06 Mar. 2016. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v23.28507.